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Hawaii 101

Long before the 44th U.S. president ran across Lanikai Beach and landed in photo spreads everywhere, Hawaii occupied a significant place in the American psyche

By Laurel Delp

September 14th, 2009

The islands make up our very own tropical paradise, a startlingly beautiful mix of lush tropical forest, velvety sand beaches, and serrate volcanic peaks. The rich, distinctive culture blends customs of the Polynesians who arrived about 1,500 years ago, the American and European missionaries and whalers of the 19th century, and subsequent Portuguese and Asian plantation and ranch workers. The world’s most isolated archipelago, Hawaii is just about as exotic as this country gets. Yet in 2009, on its 50th birthday, the 50th state is more accessible than ever.

For the first time in years, airfares to Hawaii are affordable. Luxury resorts are pitching not just free nights but also resort and airline credits and perks ranging from complimentary rental cars and spa treatments to green fee credits on famous courses.

The state of Hawaii includes eight volcanic islands and hundreds of unoccupied atolls, but the main tourist islands are Oahu, home of the capital, Honolulu; Kauai; Maui; and Hawaii, always called the Big Island. Each island is unique, with its own tenor and look, though all offer the chance to listen to slack key guitar, learn to paddleboard (all the rage), chase rainbows, and eat fresh fish with unpronounceable names. These days, new resorts are springing up, and most of the classic hotels have just undergone cutting-edge remodelings. Add to that a rising restaurant scene, and Hawaii is downright irresistible.

 View our Hawaii slideshow by photographer Andy Mahr for a closer look at the rich, enticing beauty of the 50th state.

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